By Rob Jones |

Ankur Paliwal, a distinguished science reporter and chronicler of land conflicts in India, believes his fellowship focusing on food security will equip him with tools to build bridges between the scientific community and the public.

“This is an opportunity to deepen my understanding about food systems and when I go back and explore questions it will also actually help me refine my questions and give me better questions to ask when I’m interviewing policy makers or scientists in India,” Paliwal said.

As the first Alfred Friendly Food Security Media Fellow, Paliwal will add food security to a list of foci that includes global health, the environment, and renewable energy.

The six-month fellowship began at the University of Missouri with the three-week academic component focused on scientific, economic, political, cultural and health aspects of agriculture and global food security. There were discussions with sociologists, economists, policy analysts, agriculturalists, and field trips to laboratories, experimental fields and a variety of farms.

After additional training on investigative reporting, data journalism and data visualization at the Missouri School of Journalism, Paliwal was to spend two weeks at the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, to learn about scientific breakthroughs and and meet entrepreneurs at agtech companies.

Paliwal then joins the staff at Scientific American, the oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the United States, and will collaborate with both the Pulitzer Center’s Food Insecurity Project and Undark, a digital science news magazine.

Paliwal, who won the Next Generation of Science Journalists Award in 2017 at the World Health Summit in Berlin, said agricultural science is not well adopted on farms in India because of government resistance and disconnection between agricultural research and practice.

“Scientists are not engaging with the public and it seems like that’s happening on another island,” Paliwal said. “[People] can’t really relate to science because it’s complex and I want to be the bridge.”

An independent writer, Paliwal regularly contributes to such journals as Business Standard and The Wire. He also co-founded the award-winning Land Conflict Watch, a website that tracks, analyses, and maps land conflicts in India.

Ankur toured a food bank warehouse and pantry to learn how Missouri organizations provide free groceries for needy families

It was this commitment to science journalism that indicated he would be an ideal fit for the fellowship.

“We did a world-wide search and he came up repeatedly as one of the preeminent writers and thinkers on this subject,” Alfred Friendly Press President Randy Smith said.

During his time in Columbia, he aims to develop a deep understanding of food systems and establish a network of scientists, farmers, journalists, and policy makers to understand what happens in food security.

When he returns to India, Paliwal will use the new skills, knowledge and network to shape the discourse surrounding food security in India and South Asia both and empower other journalists.

Melissa Mitchum,  a plant sciences lab director at MU, conducts research on nematodes, which cause billions of dollars in damage to crops globally

“Journalists before me here in the United States and other countries have helped me and I would want to be the example for others.”

Ankur examines a slide of a plant-eating insect in a laboratory at the Division of Plant Sciences at the University of Missouri

Billy Polansky of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture explains how they provide free vegetables to the food pantry